Product advertising temps us to buy products that claim they will make us happy. But is there anything we can buy that will bring us fulfillment?
Marketers have figured out if they can make us feel lacking, we are more apt in buying things to solve our problems. Even items we can’t afford.
This article is not about making us feel guilty about how we spend money. How we spend income becomes about figuring out what is worth the cost, and what is preventing us from pursuing our goals. Think of it as investing in products that bring us lasting enjoyment.
More is Not Always Better
Bigger is always better. Not! Getting away from having to own the “best” is a smart financial move.
Sometimes it is worth more money to purchase quality items that last longer. But I’ve used that excuse to spend extra money on things I rarely use, and cheaper alternatives would have been just as good. It becomes an art form in figuring out what you “need” and will be useful, compared to things you “want” but don’t provide much value.
What brings us true value?
Figuring out what is worth purchasing becomes about what is “best” for our current situation. Here are some useful questions to run through:
1. How much will I use this item?
The key here is thinking about how often I will use this purchase. Notice this is not how much you “want” to use it, but how much you actually will use the product. I can get caught up in how incredible an item is, but then realize I won’t use it that much. Purchasing this product becomes expensive since I won’t use it very much.
In these cases getting a cheaper alternative would provide more value for my money.
2. Can I afford to purchase this product?
Even if you find a product you need, you should avoid buying anything you can’t afford (unless it is absolutely needed). Otherwise, spending more than you make takes you down a path of credit card debt misery as it becomes easy in finding excuses to purchase expensive things that will give you value. Avoid this path like the plague to prevent creating a cycle of death.
If an item is worth buying, then it is worth saving for to purchase with cash.
3. How long will this item last?
Thinking about the durability and cost per use can help you determine the true value of a purchase. Break up the cost in how frequently the product will get used and how long you think it will last. You can get a sense of the durability of an item by looking at product reviews and what others say about it.
Example: You purchase a bike for $1,000. You might ride the bike 150 times per year. Let’s break down how much it costs per ride each year you own this bike:
- Year #1: $6.66/ride
- Year #2: $3.33/ride
- Year #3: $2.22/ride
- Year #4: $1.66/ride
- Year #5: $1.33/ride
The true cost is important because if you buy a cheaper bike and replace it more often, it could end up being more expensive than buying a more durable bike.
I bought a $300 jacket when I was in high school. People scoffed at how much it cost, but I still wear this jacket 18 years later! Was this jacket worth the high price? Yes! Was it worth going into debt for at the time? No! So I made a good choice in what I bought, but screwed up in purchasing it with future income.
It is never okay to justify purchases you can’t afford, even if they are useful.
The per-ride cost analysis above is also helpful in calculating the cost per use if you aren’t going to use a product regularly. An expensive bike might not be worthing buying if you only use it a few times per year.
4. Will I want to replace the product soon?
If we end up replacing expensive and durable products before they break, their value diminishes. But maybe it still is worth buying the product, as long as we can pay for it with cash and it doesn’t hurt our long-term financial goals. But it is something worth keeping in mind. It might be worth holding off buying an expensive item if you will end up wanting to replace it when the new version comes out.
5. What is the resell value of this item?
Buying new cars don’t do well with this question, since their value quickly depreciates. But there are some products out there, like iPhone’s, that can be re-sold for a good amount. But even in these cases, you aren’t going to sell them at the same price you bought them new.
There are some products that are easy to resell and get a good percentage back from what you originally bought them for. This can also speak to question #3 as you can resell the item and use it towards buying something different and new.
6. Can I get this item used?
Sometimes we can find what we want slightly used at huge discounts compared to buying them new. Especially for high quality items, this can work extremely well. You just want to make sure you inspect the item before the purchase, to ensure the quality meets your expectations. If you buy a product that doesn’t work, you just threw money out the window!
The Art of Simplicity
Would having all the best products in the world benefit our lives? No.
- If we don’t use a product, it doesn’t matter how awesome it is. A product that collects dust in our garage is useless!
- The more “stuff” we have, the more we have to manage and organize.
- If we have something that is useful but can’t find it or forget about it because of how much other stuff we have, the product doesn’t provide us value.
- More stuff that we don’t use requires more space for storage.
I’m guilty as anyone for purchasing things I “might” end up needing, but are expensive. They sit in my house taking up space. These things are a waste of time and money!
We are better off having higher quality things we use, than massive amounts of “stuff” we don’t use. Regardless of how awesome that “stuff” actually is.
Stay Away from the Jones’s
When we compare ourselves to other people, we are tempted to want what we don’t have. And this creates an endless cycle that will lead to buying things that don’t bring value to our lives.
Focus on what will benefit your life. It doesn’t matter what other people have!
People pleasing and trying to live up to other people’s standards can cause us to waste money. And what purpose are we really pursuing trying to make other people like us? If you have to buy things for someone to like you, something is majorly wrong!
Our true friends will not pressure us to live up to certain standards. Other than maybe taking a shower every so often.
Learn to Enjoy What You Have
Most of us have a large number of items we already have. Some of these purchases aren’t getting used very much. Look at what you have gained over the last few years that has been underutilized. Re-kindle the original reason for buying that item in the first place.
As a society, we tend to want what we don’t have, instead of enjoying what we already have. This is a financial mistake that can cost thousands of dollars!
We buy something we want, use it for a time, and then put it aside. Then we move on to the next item our heart desires. In the meantime, we are collecting all of these things that are no longer used. Our house becomes a museum of prior purchases collecting dust.
Stop the cycle of having to buy things you want to keep yourself busy. It is like a virus that causes us to focus on what we don’t have. By breaking the cycle and being conscious of what we already have, we realize we don’t always have to buy new things to be happy.
Often I’ve developed enormous expectations for something I want to buy. I convince myself that purchasing this new shiny object is going to change my life. I get caught up in reading positive reviews about how durable and excellent this product is. At that point I develop an argument on why we “need” to buy this item. By the time I purchase this object, the value vanishes, and I have something that seemed significant. But in reality, this process didn’t provide much value to my life and it was expensive. And this is a shame. I wasted time and energy on something that didn’t ultimately give me what I wanted.
Don’t get caught up getting excited about things that won’t add value to your life. It is not worth your money or time.
Buying things that I got excited about is one of the core reasons I developed a habit of getting into credit card debt and spending more than I made. I couldn’t keep up with all the “stuff” I wanted, and neither could my income.
It becomes about reflecting on what purchases will add value to our lives, and what things are just dust in the wind. If you get this right, you will end up buying less stuff and save a crap ton of money over the long-term.
Have you struggled with hyper-consumerism? How have you worked through this problem?
Chris Roane is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.